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Patrick DeVille: Longue Vue [Telescope]

As this is an Editions de Minuit novel, it is naturally somewhat low-key. It is narrated by an unnamed narrator who seems to drift in and out of the story. It is set in a town whose name I shall not mention in 1957. The town is clearly an amalgam of Mediterranean/North African resorts. It has a hotel called Dar El Beïda (Arabic for White House) but a bay called St. Catherine’s Bay. Of the six main characters we know that one is Austrian (Körberg) but the other five are of dubious nationality. One has a French first name and German surname – Alexandre Skoltz, another a mixed Spanish-Arabic name – Anton-Mokhtar, a third a mixed Irish-Spanish name – Liffey-Ramirez, while the two shadowy female characters only have first names of uncertain nationality – Jyl and Stella. In short it is the standard Editions de Minuit vagueness.

Körberg is a professional ornithologist, author of the Great Ornithological Atlas. We first see him apparently out bird watching with his telescope, though he also catches sight of Alexandre and Jyl, out on a motorbike though, at that point, he does not know who they are and they do not see him. The French title translates as telescope but it also means long view and clearly Deville is making a point with this double meaning. As well as looking out for rare birds, Körberg is in this town for two other reasons. Firstly, he wants to meet an artist who will do some paintings of birds for his Atlas. He will meet the artist later in the book, though things do not go smoothly. Secondly, he had been here many years ago and had met a singer, Stella, with whom he had had a brief affair. She was, he states, the only woman he had ever loved and he is still bitter at losing her. We know that he lost her to Anton-Mokhtar and we soon learn that Anton-Mokhtar owns a nearby villa, where Alexandre and Jyl are staying. Ironically, it is his telescope that gets him back to the place where he met her, the Dar El Beïda hotel. He is looking at a bird from his hotel window. The bird is in someone’s garden and the man of the house assumes Körberg is spying on his wife. He rushes to the hotel to complain and Körberg is asked to leave the hotel. He then moves to the Dar El Beïda.

Anton-Mokhtar, another shadowy figure but clearly an impresario of sorts, owns a villa where he lives with Jyl. We assume that Jyl is his daughter but that is not clear. Again, for reasons that are not clear, Alexandre has been visiting. He is an artist and will become famous but is not yet so. Anton-Mokhtar asks Alexandre to stay on for the summer to look after Jyl, as he has to travel. Alexandre agrees. This seems a risky strategy, as Alexandre is clearly of age, as the two are mistaken for man and wife on more than one occasion. However, if any sexual/romantic activity takes place between them, we do not learn of it. Jyl remains a shadowy figure, in the background. The novel follows the activities of Alexandre, Jyl and Anton-Mokhtar (who seems to come and go) as well as Körberg and his bird-watching. He has a friend in the town, Liffey-Ramirez. Again the relationship is unsure. Liffey-Ramirez acts mainly as a chauffeur, driving Körberg around the town. However, we do know that Körberg is going to meet Jyl, Alexandre and Anton-Mokhtar, not only because the plot demands it but because we have been told early on that this will happen. The question is, what will happen when they do meet and what has happened to Stella?

It is a book about memories but also a kind of nouveau roman style novel, where external description is more important than emotions. Alexandre, for example, in typical male fashion, bombards Jyl with various encyclopaedic facts. However, this is not a nouveau roman, though it has some of the facets of one, in that emotions, though not very strongly expressed, do appear, particularly with Körberg’s feelings for Stella. It is certainly an enjoyable novel, if not a great one but, of course, you can read it in several other languages but not English.

Publishing history

First published in French 1998 by Editions de Minuit
No English translation
Published in Dutch as De kijker in 1989 by Van Gennep
Published in German as Das Perspektiv in 1989 by Rowohlt
Published in Italian as Cannocchiale in 1990 by Einaudi
Published in Spanish as El catalejo in 1990 by Anagrama
Published in Swedish as I kikaren in 1989 by Alba